MONTREAL — A commission investigating Quebec's youth protection system released its final report Monday, calling on the government to create a charter of children's rights.
The commission's 552-page report included numerous other recommendations, following a two-year investigation that was prompted by the death of a seven-year-old girl in Granby, Que., in April 2019. Quebec's human rights commission concluded the child had been failed by the province's youth protection system.
Led by Régine Laurent, the commission recommended Quebec create a charter that would enshrine the right of a child to develop in a caring family environment. It also called for changes to the Youth Protection Act to ensure the continuity of care.
"It’s clear the biological family must be accompanied and supported to provide this stability,” Laurent told reporters Monday after releasing the report. “But if the biological family cannot respond to the needs of the child, and knowing time is of the essence, the child must be able to take root quickly in a family that will take care of them for life.”
Laurent's commission also recommended the government shift toward a prevention approach to reach families before they end up in the system. That kind of culture shift, the commission said, should include better services in schools, for example.
“We want to be clear: counting only on youth protection to stop the suffering and distress of children constitutes an error and leads up to an impasse — history teaches us this,” Laurent said.
The 2019 death of the seven-year-old girl in Granby sparked outrage in the community east of Montreal and raised questions about the province's ability to protect vulnerable young people. The girl was found in critical condition in her family home and died in hospital.
Laurent said the girl's death was a collective failure of Quebec society.
"We must move from indignation to dignity," she said. "We must turn our anger into action. We must move from a Quebec that is 'crazy about children' to one that is 'worthy of its children.'"
The report recommended the appointment of an independent commissioner to oversee the welfare and rights of children, something that already exists in other provinces. It also called for an assistant commissioner specifically for Indigenous and Inuit children.
The report recommended better support for social workers and a review of their workloads to free them from administrative tasks so they can focus on children and their families. It called for better funding for different community groups that specialize in domains such as domestic violence, food security and the transition of youth into adulthood.
In a preliminary report in November, Laurent had recommended the province hire a youth protection director to oversee the system. The Quebec government has already implemented that recommendation and filled the job in March.
Premier François Legault says junior health minister Lionel Carmant has been leading a review of the youth protection system and will oversee the implementation of the commission's recommendations.
“We vowed to put the kids first and that's what we're going to do,” Legault tweeted on Monday, thanking the commission members for their work.
Carmant and Families Minister Mathieu Lacombe will respond to the report on Tuesday in Quebec City.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 3, 2021.
Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press